It is hard to exaggerate the historic significance of Sunday's Yale University victory in the Varsity Eights event at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship.
First, look at Yale's competition. In the last 25 years, 2017 finalists Washington, Harvard, Princeton, California and Brown had won every single IRA title but one, that being Wisconsin in 2008. The Eli had to beat all the very best of the modern era to win this year.
Indeed, second-place U-Dub has won seven of the last ten IRAs. And this was nothing like an off year for the #1-ranked University of Washington, not by a long shot. At this year's regatta, they won every other men's heavyweight event, along with every single event at the women's D-1 NCAAs.
What is more remarkable is that, before Sunday, Yale had won a national-level collegiate varsity championship only once in the 20th Century,in 1982 in Cincinnati, and just twice more in the 19th Century, 1873 and 1888, in the era before the Intercollegiate Rowing Association was even formed.
True, Yale and Harvard chose not to enter the IRA from its first regatta in 1895 all the way until 2003, but nobody had kept them away. In fact, Cornell, Columbia and Penn only formed the Intercollegiate Rowing Association in frustration because Yale and Harvard had refused to race them, individually or as a group, choosing instead to race themselves exclusively in their own 4-mile Boat Race on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. Today this unique annual event is the oldest continuing collegiate competition in American history.
During Yale's absence from the IRA Championship, there were at least a couple of other times when they were indeed the nation's best, the world's best in fact: 1924 and 1956, their glorious Olympic Gold Medal years. But still, 2017 was truly a long time coming.
The funny thing is that I suspect that this year it didn't take many Yale alums long at all after catching their breaths on Sunday to begin obsessing about the upcoming 4-miler in New London less than a week later. Yale has already beaten the very strong 2017 Harvard Varsity twice this spring, at the Eastern Sprints and at the IRA, but the combined margin has been less than four seconds. Imagine how motivated Harvard will be to defeat the newly crowned IRA Champions in the only race all year that seems to really count for many alumni at both schools.
But there was something else truly remarkable about 2017. It may have been Yale's first IRA victory ever, but it wasn't Yale Coach Steve Gladstone's. It was his twelfth. Only the great Charles “Pop” Courtney of Cornell has won more, thirteen of the first twenty-one IRAs between 1895 and 1915. A record that was considered unapproachable for a century is now within reach.
Steve's success at Yale is perhaps his greatest career triumph. He produced an IRA Champion in only his third year at Cal, then in his first year at Brown, and again in his third year after returning to Cal, but it took Steve seven long years from his arrival in New Haven in 2010 to win the IRA title with Yale, which had suffered from the effects of close to half a century of near-constant domination by Harvard under the leadership of Harry Parker.
How ironic that Steve and his team will only have six days to enjoy their victory before Harvard again lines up beside the Eli for the 152nd running of their Boat Race, intent on turning around their season in one fell swoop by bringing bragging rights back to Red Top.
On to Harvard/Yale for Gladstone and co,